Columns by CNN host Fareed Zakaria, who was disciplined after a plagiarism controversy two years ago, are under scrutiny after new accusations from an anonymous Internet watchdog that says he copied passages from other writers’ work.
The questions were raised Tuesday by the site Our Bad Media, which exposed Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson as a serial plagiarist in July, leading to his dismissal. The site posted 12 examples from Zakaria columns that it said echo facts or passages from other sources without proper attribution.
The columns appeared variously in Time magazine and The Washington Post and on CNN.com. In a statement, Time said it “takes these charges very seriously” and is “reviewing them carefully.” Zakaria, widely known as a foreign affairs analyst, no longer works for Time.
Zakaria dismissed the claims, saying the bloggers’ examples focus largely on statistics “that also appeared somewhere else.”
“These are all facts, not someone else’s writing or opinions or expressions,” the commentator said in an e-mailed statement. “For example, in one column, I note that the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan. The bloggers point out that this is also in Wikipedia’s Reagan entry. But it is also in hundreds of other articles, studies, and reports.”
In a statement issued early Wednesday, CNN said it had “the highest confidence in the excellence and integrity” of Zakaria’s work. “In 2012, we conducted an extensive review of his original reporting for CNN, and beyond the initial incident for which he was suspended and apologized for, found nothing that violated our standards. In the years since we have found nothing that gives us cause for concern.”
The Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, said the Post column alleged by Our Bad Media to contain plagiarism or failure to use attribution did not constitute any journalistic offense.
“I thought it was so far from a case of plagiarism that it made me question the entire enterprise,” Hiatt said of accusations that Zakaria repurposed data on U.S. defense spending in a 2011 column.
“I think the accusation of ‘lifting’ is reckless and unfair,” he added regarding the bloggers’ claims that a quotation and anecdote from the late U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke in that column should have been attributed to the New Yorker.
In his statement Tuesday, Zakaria said that he got that material from a direct conversation with Holbrooke. “He had made that particular comment to me many times. I asked him in this case if I could quote him. He agreed. I put it into my notebook, marked, ‘for attribution.’ ”
On their site, the anonymous media critics faulted Time, The Post and CNN for failing to properly review Zakaria’s work after the August 2012 controversy involving a column for Time that led both the magazine and CNN to suspend the commentator.
“These examples raise far more serious questions about the integrity of Zakaria’s editors at CNN, Time and the Washington Post, all of whom claimed to have conducted similar reviews and found nothing,” the site said.
Two years ago, Zakaria apologized to the magazine and its readers and to Jill Lepore, the historian whose article in the New Yorker he had cribbed for a column on gun control. Time and CNN, which airs Zakaria’s weekly “GPS” program, suspended him. (CNN.com published part of the column in question.)
Zakaria at the time said he had made “a terrible mistake. . . . It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault.”
The news organizations reviewed his previous work, evidently to no further consequence.
But Our Bad Media, in reviewing work from before 2012, has reached the conclusion that Zakaria borrowed or closely reconstituted passages from others’ work. The sources he drew upon, the site alleges, include Bloomberg News, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time, Vanity Fair, The Post and Wikipedia.
This story has been updated.